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VIENNA AIRPORT Police detain 150 travelers as precautionary measure



Published: Wed, September 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Six jets, bound for destinations all over the country, were diverted to the Vienna airport.

By STEPHEN SIFF

and PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

VIENNA -- About 150 stranded travelers were detained for questioning Tuesday at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, while police searched aircraft, towed rental cars and blew open the rear window of another car that appeared to have been abandoned.

Tom Nolan, the airport's director of aviation, said no explosive device was found. "There was no direct threat to the airport," he said.

Six jets, bound for destinations all over the country, were diverted to the Vienna airport after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all air traffic before 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Numbers: Nolan said the planes -- three operated by Continental, and one each by American, TWA and USAir -- carried a total of 300 passengers. Other officials estimated that the planes carried 1,000 passengers.

Flight numbers of the planes would not be available until today at the earliest, Nolan said.

Most of the passengers were quickly taken to local hotels by school buses commandeered from the Matthews Local School District.

The FBI asked airport officials to detain passengers from an American Airlines flight out of Newark for questioning, Nolan said. He said he did not know if agents from the FBI were actually at the airport or just calling by telephone.

"I never interfaced with them," Nolan said.

Asked to stay: It was, however, only the passengers on another jet -- Continental Flight 14 en route from Honolulu to Newark, N.J. -- who were made to stay at the airport. They said they were told they had to return for questioning after being seated on a bus. It is not clear how many passengers, if any, on Flight 14 were questioned.

One man was surrounded by police, questioned, then told he was being taken to the runway to talk to FBI agents who were searching the planes.

No arrests were made, said David Ovesny, chief of the Vienna Police Department, which provides security to the airport. He said that officers from the Youngstown Police Department bomb squad spent about six hours examining the planes.

The rental cars were pulled from the building and searched out of fear that they might contain bombs, officials said. Ovesny would not say if any bomb threats had been made.

Precautions: Several detectives from the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department and other local law enforcement officials were also at the airport to help provide security.

"We wanted to take all measures to make sure everyone was safe," Ovesny said. "We were doing what every other airport in the country is doing today."

Trumbull County Commissioner Michael O'Brien said that the FBI was in charge of the investigation at the airport.

When the Continental flight first landed, the aircraft was surrounded by black-clad police officers carrying military rifles, passengers said. Their freedom was only loosely restricted during a five-hour wait in the airport parking lot and terminals. Food and beer were provided by Crystal's Catering and Restaurant on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown.

Getting the word: Passengers on the eight-hour flight said the plane had begun its descent to Newark and breakfast was being served when the pilot told them that something was wrong.

"We were told that there wasn't any danger but that New York was closed," said Melissa Quick of State College, Pa. She and her friend, Tammy Hoffman, called their husbands to pick them up at the airport.

"We don't want to wait any longer," Quick said.

Jeff Hoover, a first-grade teacher from Fort Myers, Fla., on his way back from a wedding in Hawaii, said he will try to rent a car to drive back home.

"I don't want to get on another plane," he said.

Passengers from Flight 14 were allowed to leave the airport and were put on buses to the Park Inn in Niles about 2:30 p.m. Their baggage is still being held, officials said.

Other passengers who opted to stay in the hotels and motels, rather than continue in rental cars, were expected to be on their way today if normal air travel resumed across the country.




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